It looks like Apple could (again) select the graphics giant Nvidia as the primary GPU provider for the upcoming Mac Pro hardware refresh. According to a mostly speculative story by MIC Gadget based on unnamed industry sources, new Mac Pros will feature Intel’s upcoming Ivy Bridge chipset fabbed on the chip maker’s latest 22-nanometer Trigate transistor technology (no surprise there). According to Intel, 22nm Ivy Bridge silicon claims a 37 percent speed jump and lower power consumption compared to the chip giant’s 32 nanometer planar transistors. ‘Trigate’ Ivy Bridge chips can feature up to eight processing cores and are more power-savvy, so they should help scale frequency, too. On a more interesting note, MIC Gadget speculates Apple could switch back to Nvidia as the primary supplier of next-generation GPUs for the new Mac Pros.
Nvidia has their “Kepler” platform due out around the same time as Intel is making their changes, and our sources within the company indicate that they have chosen to have Nvidia lead the charge so to speak on the graphics front.
Eagle-eyed readers could mention that AMD recently released the Radeon HD 7970 graphics card powered by the Tahiti GPU (its nearest rival is Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 590), with observes deeming it Apple’s go-to graphics card for future Mac Pros. Indeed, traces of support for Tahiti-driven AMD GPUs are found in Mac OS X Lion 10.7.3, at least indicating people might be able to upgrade their future Mac Pro with this card. Oh, and it’s great for Hackintosh builders, too.
Also indicative is a March 2011 Snow Leopard 10.6.7 update that enabled support for a bunch of AMD/ATI Radeon HD 5xxx and 6xxx cards, not all of which were in Macs at the time. On the other hand, a speculative switch to Nvidia would not be out of character as California-based Apple is known for frequently switching between Nvidia chips and those manufactured by rival AMD…
While the current-generation Mac Pros feature ATI’s discreet Radeon HD 5770 card with 1GB of GDDR5 memory for up to five times faster standard graphics, early-2oo9 machines used Nvidia’s GeForce GT 120 chips with an optional ATI Radeon upgrade. A mid-2010 refresh dropped Nvidia entirely in favor of AMD GPUs, but no optional Nvidia upgrade was available. The return of Nvidia hardware should benefit users of heavy-duty programs like Adobe Creative Suite that supports Nvidia-accelerated graphics engine for faster processing of media assets, such as audio, images and video. CUDA, Nvidia’s computing engine used in its GPUs has direct support in select apps, but it does not system-wide in Mac OS X. Instead, Apple’s desktop operating system supports a cross-platform GPGPU standard called OpenCL that Intel, AMD, Nvidia, and ARM adopted. In case you are wondering, Mac Pros are way overdue for a refresh and were last updated on July 27, 2010 —a whopping 567 days ago.